Vote on China FTA is missed due to impasse

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Vote on China FTA is missed due to impasse

The ruling and opposition parties struggled Thursday to narrow differences over compensation packages for the Korea-China free trade pact and a budget for the free day care program ahead of today’s legislative session.

The ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) were supposed to hold a voting session Thursday to ratify the Korea-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA), but the session was canceled after the two sides failed to agree on a compensation package for farmers and fishermen.

They rescheduled the vote for today, but the prospects for the ratification appeared dim. The regular session of the 19th National Assembly will end on Dec. 9.

National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa urged the NPAD leadership Thursday to cooperate with the government and the ruling party to ratify the trade pact. “The ruling and opposition parties must narrow down their differences today and vote on it tomorrow,” Chung said.

Saenuri Party’s chief policymaker Kim Jung-hoon and Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy Yoon Sang-jick paid a visit to Chung’s office to seek his cooperation. “Ratification at the legislature must be done by tomorrow [Friday] at the latest for the trade pact to take effect before the end of this year,” Rep. Kim said.

Chung then telephoned the leadership of the NPAD and requested the party attend a consultation with the government and the opposition party to resolve the deadlock. The last such trilateral meeting took place on Tuesday, but no progress was made.

The Korea-China FTA, expected to eventually eliminate tariffs on about 90 percent of the goods traded between the two countries, was finalized in November 2014. China and Korea officially signed the deal in June and it will enter into force later this year once the legislatures of both countries approve it

The government said the follow-up process such as cabinet and presidential approvals and consultation with China to coordinate a start date will take weeks. The Korea-U.S. FTA took four months to go into effect after its ratification at the National Assembly.

In a move to win over critics of the FTA including the NPAD, the government and ruling party said an additional 1 trillion won ($871 million) would be spent in the farming and fishing industries to compensate them from the expected losses.

“The agricultural industry is expected to suffer about 160 billion won in losses over the next 10 years, but we decided to spend 1 trillion won on a wide range of areas for the sake of early ratification,” Rep. Kim said during a Saenuri leadership meeting Thursday morning.

The government and ruling party have stressed that Korea will face about 4 billion won in losses in exports if the ratification is delayed.

The NPAD, however, remained adamant that it won’t cooperate, threatening to boycott tomorrow’s vote.

“Because the Saenuri Party broke its earlier promise, there was no progress,” said Rep. Lee Chun-seok, deputy floor leader of the NPAD. “We will participate in negotiations today, but without a drastic change in the Saenuri’s attitude, we are unclear if the voting session can take place tomorrow.”

The NPAD is demanding that the government create a system in which companies that benefit from the FTA will share profits with the agriculture and fisheries industries. The NPAD also wants a higher compensation package for the farmers.

The NPAD also said the government and the ruling party had been ignoring the opposition’s demand that a central government budget must be used to fund the free day care program for children aged three to five.

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